Facebook revokes new terms of use after backlash

Facebook’s chief executive officer announced Wednesday morning that Facebook is reverting to its original terms of use because of negative user feedback about a revision to the terms earlier this month.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, wrote in a Facebook blog post Monday that users license Facebook to use their content when they create an account. According to the original terms of use, this license expired when a user deactivated his or her account.

On Feb. 4, the terms were changed to include a clause that would allow the site to continue using a user’s photos and information after his or her account had been terminated.

Zuckerberg wrote in another blog post Wednesday that the company is returning to its previous terms of use, so Facebook cannot control content after an account is deactivated.

Zuckerberg wrote that the current terms of use are a temporary fix until new terms are drafted with clearer language.

The post did not specify how Facebook’s terms of use would change in the future.

Court Allen, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law at San Antonio-based law firm Cox Smith Matthews Inc., said Facebook was probably trying to protect itself from claims that user content was being misused.

If an account were terminated and Facebook’s license to a user’s content ceased, there could be concerns about content that is still available outside of someone’s profile, Allen said. Depending on the particular circumstances and applicable terms and conditions, the site may have to delete the user’s original content as well as any copies of the material, he said.

“(Facebook) would want to have the ongoing rights to allow for that,” he said.

The company probably felt that it had to revoke the new terms in order to appease aggravated customers and to prevent harm to its business, he said.

“People may quit signing up if that perceived onerous term were maintained,” he said.

According to the Web site, Facebook can change its contract without notifying its users.

Chip Stewart, professor of media law, said these terms occur regularly on social networking Web sites.

Stewart said users voluntarily sign Facebook’s terms and agreement upon registration.

If Facebook decides to use an image from a terminated account and a user decided to make a case against it, the user’s case would probably not be upheld in court, he said.

“Unless you’re being deprived of a major Constitutional right, it won’t work as an argument,” he said.

The new terms, which took effect Feb. 4, remained largely unnoticed until the consumer advocacy blog the Consumerist posted an article illuminating the shift.

Stewart said one of the reasons the change generated negative feedback is because people did not expect the license extension.

“It meant less control over a person’s content, and it would certainly make you think twice about what’s posted,” he said.

Facebook created the group Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for users to post their input for the future terms of use.

Zuckerberg wrote that the Facebook community will have the opportunity to help develop the new terms.